Lewis Hamilton dedicated the 93rd pole position of his career to Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther star whose death was announced on Saturday.
Hamilton, who revealed he partied with the American actor at the 2018 Met Gala in New York, looks set to extend his 37-point world championship lead after blowing away his rivals ahead of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver beat team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by an imperious half-a-second on his seemingly unstoppable march towards a record-equalling seventh world championship.
Lewis first over the line in Q3 and it's a 1:41.451! 🤯
That's a new Spa TRACK RECORD 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/PaCbuiu5Cb
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) August 29, 2020
But, in the moments after he posted a track record at the 19 corners which make up the 4.3 miles of Spa-Francorchamps, Hamilton turned his attention to Boseman, who died aged 43 following a private four-year battle with colon cancer.
“That one was for Chad,” said Hamilton, pointing towards the sky from inside his Mercedes machine. “Rest in peace, mate,” he added over the radio.
Hamilton then stood on top his black car and crossed his arms to perform the Wakanda Salute, a gesture synonymous with Boseman’s role in the critically-acclaimed 2018 film.
I woke up today to the sad news, our super hero passed away. I’m so grateful I got to meet you brother. Thank you for all you have done for us. Rest in Power, you were the best of us and will never be forgotten. Love, light and prayers I send to you and your family pic.twitter.com/9sKD3jZP3G
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) August 29, 2020
“Today is a really important pole for me because I woke up to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away,” said Hamilton.
“It has been such a heavy year for and that news really broke me. It was not easy to get back into focus with that in my heart.
“But I wanted to go out there and drive to perfection because of what Chad has done for our people. He was such a shining light.”
In the hours leading up to qualifying, Hamilton lit a candle in memory of the American, who became the first high-profile black superhero of the Marvel movie franchise.
“I was really lucky to meet him and tell him how awesome he was,” said Hamilton, 35. “When I was a kid, Superman was the hero. He didn’t look like me, but I still thought he was the greatest.
“So when Chad became the King of Wakanda it was such a special day for so many people. I know that young black kids can look up to him and see that it is now possible to do what he did.
“I am huge Marvel fan. Knowing how Hollywood has been for a long, long time, and to see the first black superhero, everyone was just so proud.
“To see him make it, and to be such a powerful figure within the Avengers world, it was incredible, it was inspiring. His legacy will always live on.”
Hamilton is leaving his own legacy on Formula One and British sport. His pole lap here was another evident display of the brilliance which is set to see him match Michael Schumacher’s championship haul this year.
Indeed, an 89th career win on Sunday will move him to within just two of Schumacher’s victory record.
Schumacher won 72 times and collected a quintet of titles while driving for Ferrari but these are bleak days for the great German’s former team.
After Sebastian Vettel finished rooted to the foot of the timings in final practice on Saturday morning, Ferrari had been staring at one of the most humiliating afternoons in the Italian team’s long history.
Against the odds, both scarlet cars survived the embarrassment of being knocked out in Q1. Leclerc, who won from pole here last year, will start 13th – one spot ahead of team-mate Vettel.
“F*** there’s not much more I can do,” said a despondent Leclerc on the radio.
Ferrari have led the challenge to Mercedes in recent seasons but they have suffered following an FIA investigation into the engine they used last year.
Indeed, it shows how far the sport’s most successful team has fallen that locking out the seventh row of the grid will be considered something of a reasonable result.
Further questions will be asked of the team’s beleaguered boss Mattia Binotto at their home race in Monza next weekend, and their 1,000th Grand Prix at Mugello seven days later.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo lines up in fourth. British driver Lando Norris qualified 10th for McLaren.